Opposing teams beware – when you come to Mellon Arena you not only take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins – you also deal with the greatest fans in hockey.
|The 'whiteout' has become a playoff tradition at Mellon Arena during the past two postseasons. Credit - Getty Images |
While the team is spending the entire season honing their system and learning how to read and react with each other on the ice, the fans use the first 82 games as a warmup for when the Penguins need them the most.
“The last couple of years it has been growing and growing,” Maxime Talbot said. “I feel like this year it has been the best we have seen from the fans. I am sure they have all been waiting for the playoffs. They want us to repeat. They want us to keep the Cup here. We want to put on a good show for them.”
If the show is anything like the ones the Penguins have put on during the past two postseasons, when they appeared in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals, taking home Lord Stanley’s chalice last June, we should all prepare for another long journey.
They always say the road to any championship begins by protecting your home turf. Thanks to raucous fan support at Mellon Arena, the Penguins have been near perfect at home the past two springs.
During the past two postseasons the Penguins have posted an astounding 18-4 record at home, a mark many of the players credit to the Pittsburgh faithful.
“There is definitely something different in the air,” Bill Guerin said. “I think that people realize the importance of the games and how much they mean. It’s the playoffs. They’re big, and it’s different. It’s more important. You’ve worked this hard. You get to the playoffs, and it just becomes do-or-die.”
“The crowd is definitely the seventh guy on the ice,” Matt Cooke
said. “It’s an intimidating place. That’s a pretty amazing thing to experience. I think that you’re going to go through your times during the playoffs where another team scores a goal or they have momentum. When the crowd gets behind the team and gets loud and makes it tough for the other team to play, it can be a momentum shift for the players. You look for your fans at home to do that.”
What makes a Pittsburgh crowd so special – besides the die-hard nature of the fan-base which is unparalleled across the country – is that in addition to the 17,132 towel-waving, whiteout-rocking fanatics seated inside the Igloo, another 3,000-5,000 hockey enthusiasts congregate around the outdoor screen located outside Gate 3.
Watching a hockey game outside on a 12x16 LED screen might serve as a novelty in most cities, but it has become a playoff tradition in the Steel City. Who can forget the 10,000-plus fans who lined the streets of Centre Avenue and Washington Place during the Stanley Cup Finals?
I can tell you this – the playoffs sure can’t.
“It has been huge for us,” Marc-Andre Fleury
said. “Having the whiteout and all the people who come and watch outside is very cool for us.”
“Throughout the whole playoffs, you feed off of the crowds,” Guerin said. “I think that, especially at home, you feed off of the positive energy and the excitement and what you’re doing out there. It makes the team feel good.”
During each of the past five series when the Penguins have held the home-ice advantage, much like they will here in round one versus the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh has helped give the crowd something to be energized about as they have jumped out to 2-0 series leads on all five occasions en route to series’ victories each time.
Pittsburgh is hoping for more of the same against the Senators, whom the Penguins went ahead of 2-0 in the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals behind 4-0 and 5-3 victories in Games 1 and 2 at Mellon Arena, leading to a sweep of the team from Canada’s capital city.
“It’s always nice to start at home,” Tyler Kennedy
said. “You have to win the games when you’re home to make the difference. You have to really take advantage of home ice advantage by winning. It’s always nice to hear the crowd. When they’re in it, we’re in it.”
Yes, Penguins fans have proven that they are in it with their team. When the puck is dropped at 7:08 p.m. on Wednesday evening they will be doing what they do best – screaming on behalf of their hockey heroes while at the same time helping make like miserable for the visiting team in the red jerseys. They will make every bit the difference the in the outcome of the series by once again raising the roof of the Mellon Arena as the Penguins attempt to send the only home they have ever known off with another championship run.
“I am excited for that,” Talbot said. “I am excited to see the fans in action. They have been warming up all season for this.”